Learning From Dog Training Legends: Debbie Martin

Learning From Dog Training Legends: Debbie Martin

Our next guest in this “Learning from Legends” series is Debbie Martin. (You can read the previous interview with Dr. Susan Friedman here.) Debbie Martin is a Veterinary Technician Specialist in Behavior. Her and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Martin, co-authored the book “Puppy Start Right” which many dog trainers and dog owners turn to for raising their puppies.

Debbie received a Bachelor of Science degree in human ecology from The Ohio State University and an associate of applied science degree in veterinary technology from Columbus State Community College. She has been a full-time registered/licensed veterinary technician since 1996 and worked in private practice for over 14 years. Since 2005 Debbie has been the animal behavior technician for Veterinary Behavior Consultations, LLC. She assists Kenneth Martin, DVM, DACVB during behavior consultations.

Debbie is the co-owner of TEAM Education in Animal Behavior, LLC, a business focused on providing education on humane training and behavior modification and fostering collaboration between various animal behavior professions.

She is a contributing author and co-editor of the textbook, Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses by Wiley-Blackwell. In 2009, Debbie and Dr. Martin wrote a book on normal development and training in dogs; Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog. In August of 2012 through Karen Pryor Academy, Debbie and Ken Martin launched the Puppy Start Right Instructors Course. The course provides not only the thorough knowledge necessary to provide puppy socialization classes, but also a complete curriculum with supplemental materials.

Her combined experience in general practice and behavior specialty has fueled her passion for preventive behavior medicine and the Fear Free℠ initiative. Debbie is honored to be representing veterinary technicians on the Fear Free executive council.

In her free time, she loves spending time with her dogs, 3 Belgian Malinois, Jazmin, Iliana, and Polo and her one-eyed Beagle-Jack Russell mix, Iris. Although her current dogs are retired, she has enjoyed competing in Rally Obedience and Agility. A few years ago, Debbie took up motorcycle and dirt bike riding, so when weather and time permits, she and her husband can be found exploring the beautiful terrain of the Hill Country in central Texas on either a street bike or dirt bike.

Let’s dive into the interview.

My first question is, how did you first get involved in the dog (animal?) training world?

I think it was really two things. First, prior to going back to college to become a veterinary technician, I was a certified preschool teacher. When I graduated from veterinary technology school, I was intrigued by animal behavior and development and how we may be able to influence behavior. My studies in undergrad with human development sparked this interest. Consequently, I started my venture into animal training with learning about and teaching puppy socialization classes in the late 90’s. The second factor that influenced my involvement in animal training was my dog, Snickers. Snickers was a shepherd mix I adopted from the Humane Society in my early 20’s. He was a wonderful companion but he did have his quirks, such as a fear of children and unfamiliar people and later in life, thunderstorm anxiety and separation anxiety. I learned a lot from Snickers and he sparked my interest in intervention versus preventive veterinary behavior medicine.

I noticed that you are one of only 14 veterinary technicians to have achieved the status of a Veterinary Technician Specialist in Behavior. Can you tell us more about what that is and what it entails?

Becoming a veterinary technician specialist in behavior is similar to a veterinarian becoming board certified in a specialty field but it is for veterinary technicians. There are currently 15 veterinary technician specialties (for a complete list click here). Achieving certification first involves submitting and having an application approved for examination. There are criteria for continuing education, prevention and intervention hours, case reports, case log, and the completion of a skills assessment. Once an application is approved, the candidate partakes in a full day examination which includes written and practical evaluation of the candidate’s knowledge and skills. For more information: www.avbt.net

In your experience, what do dog trainers struggle with the most when it comes to severe dog behavior cases?

As a licensed veterinary technician, I am required to work under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian or I could lose my license for practicing veterinary medicine without a license. All cases involving behavior disorders such as aggression, anxiety, extreme fears or phobias, would first be evaluated by a veterinarian and a treatment plan would be prescribed by the veterinarian which includes environmental management, behavior modification, training, and on occasion behavioral medications. I then coach pet owners on how to implement the prescribed treatment plan and assist them with questions or concerns they encounter while implementing the treatment plan. The biggest challenge as with all aspects of veterinary medicine (and animal training) is often owner compliance. I get it, they perhaps did not sign up for the challenges they are facing with their animal companion. Thus, I try to make the implementation as easy as possible in their daily routine. If they are unable to work towards more advanced training and behavior modification exercises, avoidance and management can always be an option, as long as the welfare of the pet is not compromised.

At what point should a dog trainer consider getting a Veterinary Behaviorist, such as Dr. Ken Martin, involved with a case?

I may be biased on this as I am working within the veterinary medical model and thus, anything that is considered to be behavioral intervention instead of preventive care, would warrant a veterinary referral. As defined in Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses, a behavior ‘problem’ is defined as, “The animal’s behavior is a problem for the owner. The issues could be a lack of training, a conditioned unwanted behavior, a behavioral disorder or a combination of issues.” Whereas a behavior disorder refers to, “Psychological or behavioral patterns outside behavioral “norms” that usually have an affective component.” Intervention care refers to measures taken to improve or alter an existing behavioral disorder. Intervention requires a veterinarian’s diagnosis and treatment plan. Common times when an animal trainer should consider a referral to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist include:

  • Multiple behavior issues or suspected behavior disorders
  • Multiple stimuli/triggers or unidentifiable triggers
  • Anxiety-based issues
  • Risk of injury to the pet, people, or other animals
  • Bite history with a lack of bite inhibition
  • Any acute change in behavior
  • Geriatric onset
  • Explosive or out of context behavior
  • Little or no progress is being made with a training plan

How do dog aggression and dog reactivity differ? Do you treat them differently? (Meaning dogs that are aggressive to other unfamiliar dogs while on leash.)

Reactivity is a nondescript term that could have a variety of motivations from excitement to fear. Aggression is defined as any threatening gesture to increase the distance between the animal and the stimuli.  When a dog is being ‘reactive’ he might be displaying behaviors such as lunging and barking to increase space between him and the stimuli. This technically would be defined as aggression. Dr. Martin would treat them very similarly; avoid the practicing of the behavior as much as possible through environmental management, start off reinforcing any offered attention to the handler (uncued) and noticing of stimuli (ie ears perked and oriented but not reacting) and from there adding in more advanced exercises pending the response and owners interest. Depending on the size of the dog and risk of possible injury to people or other animals, he would recommend appropriate safety gear, such as basket muzzles, a two leash method, and possibly a deterrent for loose dogs should they approach the dog. If a non-stressful starting point cannot be identified, pharmaceutical intervention might be incorporated into the plan to help facilitate the learning process. If you are stressed out or extreme anxious at the first sight of another dog, it is nearly impossible to learn something.

What are the keys to success when working with dog aggression? (Meaning dogs that are aggressive to other unfamiliar dogs while on leash.)

Arranging the antecedents to prevent the continued practicing of the behavior. Giving the dog a ‘stress holiday’ can be the first step. Continued activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) day in and day out, primes the body to be ready to react, had deleterious effects on the body, and inhibits the ability to learn to overcome the fear and anxiety associated with the situation. The other component that’s really key is owners focusing on rewarding desired behaviors. We coach owners to mark and reinforce anytime the dog checks in with them when outside on a walk. So offered attention to the owner becomes more likely to occur. We also ask them to mark and reinforce noticing stimuli. Catch them when they first notice and reinforce the non-reactive behavior. Alice Tong, KPA CTP has a really great handout on this technique. She calls it the Engage-Disengage Game.

How can dog trainers better prepare themselves before they begin taking on clients? (With relation to their education, with their handouts or written materials for their clients, or anything else they should consider before getting started.)

There are a lot of great positive reinforcement based programs out there. I am most familiar with the Karen Pryor Academy because I was an instructor for them for 8 years. I prefer to not list others because I do not have first hand knowledge of their programs and I also don’t want to leave out any great programs that I might not be aware of. Understanding and developing the foundation skills for training are the key to being a good trainer with animals. Being able to communicate that information to clients in a non-blaming and compassionate manner is even more important. There are great books and DVD’s available on clickertraining.com, dogwise.com, and tawzerdog.com. Go to as much continuing education as you can! I joke that I feel like a part time job of mine is watching webinars and going to veterinary and animal training conferences or seminars.

Do you have any role models or people you look up to in the animal training industry? (Who and why?)

Everyone I talk to about training whether they be a professional animal trainer, veterinary behaviorist, groomer, or pet owner, I learn from them and with them. All the people out there making a positive difference in the lives of their own pets or clients pets are my role models.

How do you hope the dog training industry will evolve in the future? What do you want it to look like?

Because veterinary professionals and animal trainers have the common goal of improving the human-animal relationship and improving the welfare of animals, I would like to see these two fields start to work closer together. This is a topic I have talked about at Clicker Expo in the past and it is one of the reasons I am involved with the Fear Free movement. Fear Free recognizes the value the modern professional positive reinforcement animal trainer can bring to the veterinary community. There can be challenges in communication and role delineation when two professional fields are working closely together but have perhaps slightly different perspectives.

Where will people be able to see you speak in the coming year?

Fetch Veterinary Conference in San Diego in December 2017. In 2018- Clicker Expo in California and St. Louis. The Western Veterinary Conference, 7 of the Fear Free Symposia (Dallas, TX, Kansas City, MO, Jersey City, NJ, Minneapolis, MN, Boston, MA, Nashville, TN and Atlanta, GA), IAABC conference in April, Castlegar, BC in May, and Southwest Veterinary Symposium in San Antonio, TX in September.  You can check out our speaking schedule here. Although many of these are not yet listed because they do not have an active registration site yet. Check back for updates or sign up to receive updates by registering here.

Chat Time Interview with Kevin Duggan of All Dogs Go To Kevin LLC

Chat Time Interview with Kevin Duggan of All Dogs Go To Kevin LLC


Chat Time Interview with Kevin Duggan CPDT

Chat Time Interviews are held on Facebook. During these interviews, I talk to experts about their areas of expertise. For this interview Kevin Duggan of All Dogs Go To Kevin LLC joined me to discuss blogging, the dog trainer certification process, and the ins and outs of running a successful dog training business.

Kevin Duggan is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. He has been training professionally for 5 years. Kevin loves working with dogs and helping them mesh better into their homes. He does this by teaching the dog what we would like it to do, and reinforcing the behavior. This is also known as Positive Reinforcement. Kevin specializes in helping to build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions. He can help you with basic to advanced obedience as well as behavior modification. Along with helping people locally with his business, Kevin also writes for a variety of different websites. The most notable sites being Victoria Stilwell’s Positively.com as a Positively Contributor and the Dogington Post where he does an “ask the trainer” and writes articles.

Kevin has a popular blog of his own and creates educational viral videos to help spread the word about positive training. Don’t forget to subscribe to his YouTube Channel!

My Interview With Kevin

Kevin dugganLisa G White: Welcome Kevin!

Kevin Duggan: Thank you for having me!

Lisa G White: You are most welcome. I see you are a fellow CPDT-KA trainer. Why did you decide to take the CCPDT exam?

Kevin Duggan: Hi Lisa, when I first got into dog training I knew I wanted to do it for a living and researched where to go. I came across the CCPDT and saw how it is a nationally recognized certification council. I figured it was a great place to start.

Lisa G White: What areas of knowledge does the CPDT-KA exam cover and what can you expect from a trainer with this certification?

Kevin Duggan: Great question. What I really like about the exam is that it covered so many different things. In order to pass it you need to be knowledgeable in animal husbandry, ethology, instructional skills, and learning science techniques and application. It really covers a ton. It is a great place to get started for anyone that wants to become certified.  Someone with a certification like me, in theory knows how dogs learn, why they do what they do (the dogs), and how and why they are doing what they are doing, (the trainer).

This certification says all that and much more, but doesn’t guarantee the methods used by the trainer. The majority of us are using up-to-date scientific methods that do not include pain or fear. With that being said there are some that are opting to use shock collars and other devices that cause pain and fear.

Lisa G White: Here is the link to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Inc. with regards to info to this exam. What advice do you have for trainers preparing to take the CPDT-KA exam?

Kevin Duggan: My advice would be to find a certified trainer to mentor with. (*Remember to do your research about the trainer.) I mentored for about 2 years with 2 certified trainers. This is where I learned everything I needed to pass the test. I recommend sitting in on as many private consults and group classes as possible. Additionally, I recommend reading different books like Don’t Shoot the Dog, Excel-Erated Learning, Culture Clash to name a few. When it comes to being a dog trainer, knowledge is power. (not force.)

Lisa G White: How long have you been blogging for and why did you decide to do a blog?

Kevin Duggan: When I started my website I included a blog with it. I didn’t update it much. That was about 3 years ago. Within the past 2 years I’ve used it to spread the word about reward based training. I use it to give people free advice in the form of tips, articles, and videos. I do it for a couple other reasons as well. One, I enjoy writing things. I try to deliver information to people in a way that is easy to understand. I also recommend having a blog and keeping it updated for SEO in regards to bringing traffic to your site.

Lisa G White: What is your favourite article/video for your blog that you did?

Kevin Duggan: I don’t know if I could pick a favorite. Here is one that I like though. It puts emphasis on the fact that a lot of people are comfortable giving advice to people about their dogs when they have no business doing so. Here’s the article: Dog Training: Everyone is an Expert.

In regards to favorite videos: I don’t know if I can choose one. Here is my channel. I really enjoy everything about making videos, from coming up with the content, to shooting and editing. It’s all fun for me. And it works out great because it gives people help that otherwise couldn’t afford it.

Lisa G White: What challenges do you have with blogging?

Kevin Duggan: That’s a good question. I don’t have any issues with coming up with stuff to blog about. I just write what comes to me. One challenge is dealing with trolls. Those are the people who are looking to nitpick or just read the title of an article and comment without actually reading it. With that being said, I do not read the comments of any of my blogs. My advice to anyone that writes blogs is to not feed the trolls, they thrive on that.

Lisa G White: I take my hat off to you to do this, I’m a bit of a wuss. So many people always have something to say, to criticise. You cannot cover every single thing in a blog, only your own point of view. If you tried to do so, then it would become a bloody novel.

I see you are a guest blogger for Victoria Stillwell, how did that come about and how long have you been a guest blogger for her?

Kevin Duggan: Yes, I’ve recently started writing for the world-renowned Victoria Stilwell. They actually contacted me after reading my blog on my website. They liked what they saw and asked if I would like to be a Positively Expert. I have currently written 3 articles for her site over the past month. It has been an awesome opportunity/ experience to be able to reach even more people.

Lisa G White: WOW, what an honour, you must feel so pleased!

Kevin Duggan: If you would have told me a year ago that I would be writing for her I would have laughed at you. But hard work pays off.

Lisa G White: Indeed it does!

Kevin Duggan: Here is a link to my articles for Victoria.

Lisa G White: How did you come up with your business name? It is brilliant!

Kevin Duggan: My friend’s Mom actually came up with it. When I was searching for a business name she came up with All Dogs Go To Kevin LLC and I couldn’t pass it up.

Thank you. I was lucky to be named Kevin. All Dogs Go To Eric doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Lisa G White: LOL, so true. Today you posted on your FB page that in the past 3 months your website has moved up 4.5 million spots in the global rank. WOW, congratulations. Can you give us some advice / tips on what you have done to achieve this?

Kevin Duggan: My website has been something I’ve been working on for quite some time. When I started it I had it set up for information about me and my local business. Since then I’ve been turning it into a site that people can visit to get free advice in the form of blog posts and videos. That has helped. Additionally, writing for other popular sites like positively.com and dogingtonpost.com allows for more reach to people. It works out well.  My advice to anyone that wants to do a site, keep updating it regularly with good info. Blogs are a great way to keep people coming back to your site. Videos are another great way. Keep your site easy to navigate. I see too many sites that are hard to navigate and unappealing to the eye. That will drive people away quickly.

Lisa G White: 4.5 million is a HUGE improvement though.

Kevin Duggan: It also comes down to page views on your site. Which is another reason to write blog posts. My blog posts reach on average between 500-1000 people. That equates to page views.

Lisa G White: That is fantastic Kevin! Last question from me – What is the biggest mistake you see trainers make when communicating with clients?

Kevin Duggan: I would say, there are a lot of “trainers” out there that have no business working with dogs. It is my job as a trainer to be as up-to-date as possible when it comes to scientifically sound training. There are lots of trainers out there today that are still giving people advice based off of outdated research that has been proven to be false. The biggest mistake those trainers make are giving outdated advice because they’re too stubborn to change their ways.

That being said, a mistake that scientifically sound trainers make is talking to science-e to everyday people. It is important to be able to communicate in a way that your clients will understand.

Lisa G White: That is so true Kevin. Ok the floor is now open for members to ask questions.

Facebook Group Member: I have a dog Babs she is adopted and can tell abused in her pass! Have been handling her and socializing her for over a year she just does not want to be social. She has tendency of being very aggressive. The same group of people have come and gone all of this time and she still attacks at times and other times she is OK – very unpredictable any advice? Babs is approx two years of age! At this point she is kennelled when company comes for she has bitten well quite a few so far.

Kevin Duggan: It really comes down to pairing the scary things with good stuff. The process is referred to as Counter Conditioning and Desensitization. My advice would be to do lots of research on CC/DS and start to implement it. That is the shortest answer I can give for your question. smile emoticon Sorry to hear about your situation.

Facebook Group Member: In your experience, how much floor space do you think is an adequate amount for a dog training/day care facility?

Kevin Duggan: I just opened my training center and it is just short of 1,000 square feet. It isn’t huge but gets the job done. I am able to do about 6 full size dogs in a basics class, 8 puppies, and for my reactive dogs I do 3 max in there. This gets the job done for me. If you go much smaller things can get chaotic and there just isn’t enough space in between dogs to get things accomplished.

Facebook Group Member: So nice to meet you Kevin. I am a CPDT-KA trainer as well. I have my own Facebook page which is growing. I write tips, information, education etc for dog owners and also cross post great articles from other trainers. Would you suggest a blog for someone like me? I haven’t jumped into that arena yet. I write new posts 3-5 days a week.

Kevin Duggan: I was doing most of my stuff on FB and decided to start sending people to my site. Overall, yes I would recommend starting off with even doing tips on your site and drawing people from FB to your site. Sometimes I do little tips on my Facebook page, but most often I am just doing teasers to get people to click a link and go to my site. I have started doing graphics recently as well. But the more traffic you can bring to your site, in theory the more business you can gain in clients.

Facebook Group Member: So is it your website or a blog?

Kevin Duggan: Both. My blog is a part of my website.

Facebook Group Member: Thanks so much. I’m going to go snoop now.

Lisa G White: Unfortunately, we have to end now, Kevin has to go watch football, and he is rooting for Green Bay to beat Seattle. Thank you so much Kevin for taking the time to chat with us!

Kevin Duggan: Thank you for having me. Thanks all for the questions.

Thank You

We’d like to extend a big thank you to Kevin for letting us share this interview on The Modern Dog Trainer blog. We look forward to reading and learning more from you! Also, thank you to Lisa for organizing and hosting the interviews.

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